Lewis, Jenson and some economies of truth

Posted: March 3, 2011 in Formula 1
Tags: , , , , , ,

If you’ve been around for the last few weeks or have the ability to click this link, you’ll have seen McLaren’s new MP4/26.  If you’ve done some exploring and hovered your mouse pointer over the pictures, you’ll know I’m really quite taken by the way it looks.

Its pace in pre-season testing has so far given the admiring throng plenty of time to sit and stare.  BBC lead commentator Martin Brundle has said the McLaren “looks like it’s on cold tyres at all times.”  Teams do occasionally play games with each other through the winter and it’s possible that McLaren have been trolling around with a full tank of fuel on board at all times (perhaps they’ve been breaking down every 10 laps on purpose too.  Subterfuge has no limits…), so to get a read on where they stand, we must turn to the drivers.

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, world champions both, are exceptionally talented men who tend not to be backward in coming forward.  How do they feel about their new motor?

Hamilton:

“The ’09 car was terrible because the car was hopping, three-wheeling through corners, it was locking up, and it had no downforce.  This doesn’t lock up, it doesn’t three-wheel and it handles really nice, better than last year’s car, but it just doesn’t have as much downforce…so that’s where it feels weak.

“Hopefully we’ve got some more downforce coming onto the car before the first race.  Of course we’d love to have had more mileage, but there is a real balance.  We left it (unveiling the car) a bit later, not because the car was late, but because we wanted a week or two more to develop it, and perhaps it’s not played right into our hands.

“We’ve good things in the pipeline, and we definitely improved in the last couple of days’ testing, doing 107 laps on the final day at the last test.  We’ve not done the mileage at the beginning, but hopefully we can pick up on reliability and the downforce is on its way.”

Loosely translated: There’s a good car in there somewhere.  I haven’t found it yet.

Button:

“When I first jumped in it, the first reaction was not, ‘Wow, we’re going to blow everyone away’.  No.  I don’t think anyone would have felt that because it’s got a lot less downforce, the tyres are working very differently to the previous tyre…but there’s nothing that really scares me about the car in a negative way, so there’s a lot we can improve with this car through general set-up work.

“This year, at the moment, we’ve had some issues in testing in terms of getting parts to the circuit and a couple of reliability issues, so we’ve not done as much running as we would have liked, which has hurt our set-up work.  We do have four days and hopefully everything’s going to run sweet at the next test, and we get a lot of laps in and we can improve the base that we have.

“There’s a lot still to extract from this car that we haven’t because we just haven’t had time to do it, we haven’t got everything together yet, so we don’t really know where we are compared to the competition.”

Loosely translated: Wow.  We’re going to be blown away.

 

At this stage in proceedings, not all is lost.  BMW, for example, spent the entire winter of 2008 and the Friday practice sessions in Melbourne being either last or somewhere near it, then magically became very rapid on the Saturday and stayed there all season.  McLaren’s own 2009 challenger started on the back row for the British Grand Prix in mid-season – Lewis Hamilton, at the wheel that day, won two races later in the season in a heavily-revised version of the same car.  In spite of that and whatever the future may hold, there’s an increasing worry that, not for the first time, the Woking squad may have innovated their way into a deep hole.

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